On Friday, March 2011, the normally stable nation of Japan was thrown into upheaval in the most literal sense. An earthquake, which prompted a massive tsunami, washed up and over Tohoku. A month later the aftershocks would take a further toll on Miyagi. The Fukushima nuclear power plant suffered a critical failure, lapsed into meltdown, and has been in a critical state ever since. Even today, radiation leakage can be evidenced from as far away as the California coast.
Japan has meant a lot to classic rock bands that got their start in the 1970s. Famously Cheap Trick didn’t become the Cheap Trick we recognize today until their breakthrough Budokan show. Aerosmith had more of a groundswell before they went to Japan in the early days, but it was clear that the kind of support and love received from the Japanese fans helped the group through some hard times, and few groups have had as many hard times as Aerosmith has. They hadn’t been back to Japan since 2004, but in an effort to show their support, they staged a return in support of the struggling, crisis-struck country.
Director Casey Patrick Tebo’s Aerosmith: Rock For The Rising Sun is a concert film that documents the tour’s specific leg, and as such the DVD is a great addition for fans of the band. The set list moves the most recent material to the front, with “Livin’ On The Edge” being the newest song in the bunch. The majority of the material recounts the group’s history, and that sees perfectly in keeping with the relationship the band has with the Japanese fan base. We could pick nits and say that they were trotting out a variant of the “oldies” concerts that ’70s rockers have been doling out to audiences over the past decade, but I say we should give a little slack to the group in this case.
Because the film is a compilation of different stops, it is hard to pin down exactly what the repertoire would have been at individual shows, or how the crowd would have responded to “Pink” or the other songs that did not find their way to the final cut. That’s okay. This is a document for now much more than a document of then.
The audio on the presentation, particularly the DTS track, is very good and as concert films go, you get a lot from the show. Yet one needs to remember that this is a concert film first and foremost. This is not not a documentary about the phenomenon of being “big in Japan” which helped many an artist survive very lean years. This isn’t even a film about perseverance, be it that of a nation wrapping its collective mind around the wrath of nature, or whether nuclear power can or should be relied on with all this staring it in the face. The trauma is particularly felt by the country because, if anyone needs to be reminded, Japan is the only country to ever have had weaponized nuclear power unleashed upon it. They knew of the ramifications of radiation, through family stories, through history books, and through that lingering shadow cast by the genie that was loosed from that bottle. The earthquake and tsunami — that was horrible and dreadful enough, but to have the further ghosts set loose again…that was a whole other nightmare to contest.
And I don’t think Rock For The Rising Sun tries too hard to be. There are glimpses of the band about the different cities they play in, and behind the scenes. It’s just tantalizing enough to make you wish there was more of it, something a bit more substantive. If you feel otherwise, and are of the camp that the last thing this presentation needed to be was a documentary about Americans arriving, after all these years, to provide moral support through their music while staring sad-eyed into the city and navel-gazing about how little humans are in the grand scheme of things, this movie fits perfectly into your expectations. And it certainly helps that this is a good Aerosmith show and not a bad one, but I couldn’t quite get past the itch that these concerts could have been staged anywhere and been just what it is: a well-executed series of rock shows.
So if you are an Aerosmith devotee, or a fan of concerts on DVD, you won’t be disappointed by Rock For The Rising Sun. If you wanted the premise to shoot for something higher than that, then you might come away disappointed.